Final Post: Tusen takk
And I was called John the Lucky
Eiríks saga rauða
Leifur svarar: “Það ætla eg ef sá er yðvar vilji.”
Konungur svarar: “Eg get að svo muni vel vera. Skaltu fara með erindum mínum að boða kristni á Grænlandi.”
Leifur kvað hann ráða mundu en kveðst hyggja að það erindi mundi torflutt á Grænlandi en konungur kveðst eigi þann mann sjá er betur væri til þess fallinn en hann “og muntu giftu til bera.”
“Það mun því að eins,” kvað Leifur, “að eg njóti yðvar við.”
Leifur lét í haf þegar hann var búinn. Leif velkti lengi úti og hitti hann á lönd þau er hann vissi áður öngva von í. Voru þar hveitiakrar sjálfsánir og vínviður vaxinn. Þar voru og þau tré er mösur hétu og höfðu þeir af öllu þessu nokkur merki, sum tré svo mikil að í hús voru lögð.
Leifur fann menn á skipflaki og flutti heim með sér og fékk öllum vist um veturinn. Sýndi hann svo mikla stórmennsku og gæsku af sér. Hann kom kristni á landið og hann bjargaði mönnunum. Var hann kallaður Leifur hinn heppni.
My brother has a favored quip, “it’s better to be lucky than good.” Apropos to that. Good is a pretty high standard to cross, but just about anybody can trip forward over a low bar. In a perfect world I would be lucky and good, in the real world I ought to be satisfied with the former rather than the latter.
The Roving is over. The wool is packed away. My bug bites have bug bites, sweat is no repellent. I guess now is the time to think, to reflect. Perhaps, yet the time to savor will come later. It’s too hot to savor anything now.
Did I learn anything Roving over Norway? You bet! But the problem is to articulate it in a way that dignifies the magnitude of the experience for me and my family without bloviating. Last night I heard Terry Tempest Williams speak, I know she could do it. My self confidence isn’t quite there yet.
So many of the lessons from Norway are already in this blog, I would rather re-read than re-write. The contrasts are what’s new now that I am in Iowa. To be knee deep in a Middle Border summer from a year in Norway is to crave a respite from the worst of America and revel in its best.
I have been driving a lot and I don’t like it. I don’t like it how the default is to drive. I don’t like it that our collective memory has been erased; roads were once the kingdom of walkers and bicyclists. The cars drove us to the ditches where we remain. The cult of cars is unsustainable, understandable, and unavoidable until the next crisis. Father Time is undefeated.
Where are the people? The heat keeps us in, the cars keep us apart. I have felt quite isolated in the short time we’ve been back even though I’m in my home culture with my home people. Summer break exacerbates this problem, but the remedy approaches.
I had fast food for lunch, it was glorious. I have had a lot of fast food lately. America is food. Food in giant portions. Food in cosmic variety. Food in endless quantity. The thing I most craved was food. Now that I’m in the breadbasket all I want to do is eat. Food is America.
The presidential race will start in earnest Friday. The battles between the champions, the skirmishes amongst the auxiliaries, the participation in the world’s greatest ongoing political experiment, it is a spectacle and a thrill.
Fulbright challenged me to travel to Norway and teach about America. The journey was long. There was wind and rain. Snow and ice both stimied my plans and stimulated my body. Dark days and then light-filled nights confused my mind. It was an adventure. The new birds and new people captivated me. My crew survived with nary a scratch. I taught my lessons and took in some too. I don’t know if the natives will say that I was good, but I sure was lucky.
Saga of Erik the Red
Chapter 5, an excerpt (http://sagadb.org/eiriks_saga_rauda.en)
Leif answered, “I should wish so to do, if it is your will.” The king replied, “I think it may well be so; thou shalt go my errand, and preach Christianity in Greenland.”
Leif said that he was willing to undertake it, but that, for himself, he considered that message a difficult one to proclaim in Greenland. But the king said that he knew no man who was better fitted for the work than he. “And thou shalt carry,” said he, “good luck with thee in it.” “That can only be,” said Leif, “if I carry yours with me.”
Leif set sail as soon as he was ready. He was tossed about a long time out at sea, and lighted upon lands of which before he had no expectation. There were fields of wild wheat, and the vine-tree in full growth. There were also the trees which were called maples; and they gathered of all this certain tokens; some trunks so large that they were used in house-building. Leif came upon men who had been shipwrecked, and took them home with him, and gave them sustenance during the winter. Thus did he show his great munificence and his graciousness when he brought Christianity to the land, and saved the shipwrecked crew. He was called Leif the Lucky.
From King of Prussia with Love
Philadelphia is a city with a Greek name, French architecture, and Puritan roots: what could be more American than that? Ah, a suburb with the regional shopping center named after a Baltic nobleman. Maybe American culture is best expressed in what we “consume,” that is our shopping habits. How Americans spend their money drives the factories and trends of the world, for better or worse. I suspect the suburbs around Philly are interchangable with the suburbs of Boston or Chicago or Sacramento. Little do we appreciate how our time in the mall invents a life for the rest of the world.
Once in a while I have a student approach me after a workshop to ask more questions. Without reservation, I love those moments, especially because they are too few to my liking. This past week in Stavanger a student stayed after to talk, I will refer to her as “Steina.” Regretfully, I could not oblige because of the day’s schedule. I apologized, gave her my card, and then asked her to email me any questions she had. She did.
Steina was writing a paper on the positive and negative influences of American culture in Norway and she wanted my thoughts about the matter since I was the American living in another culture. Steina was kind in that she asked for only short answers, as if my down time was too precious to bother. I suspect what I wrote was a little longer than what she expected. But it is nowhere near of what I could have or wanted to write.
Below is a lightly edited version of my reply. My hands and arms are recovering from a “medical event” that makes typing very difficult for now, so I know there are typos and such in the text. You’ll have to deal with it. Oh, if you want the story then I will tell it to you in full over lunch, you buy.
Steina asked about the depth and breadth of American culture in Norway I observed, my thoughts on it, and perhaps larger global implications I noticed. Ultimately, she wanted to know, was “this influence…good or bad for Norway?” I wrote:
The American influence in Norwegian culture is strong, based on my observations. I see the dominant style of clothes worn by Norwegian teens as American. The brands, images, and messages on most clothing seems to promote or reflect an American bias. English is a heavily promoted language in Norway, it is the default second language taught to children and the additional language on most signs in Norway. I have come to expect to use my english anywhere I go in Norway, even though I do try to use Norwegian out of respect. The growth of private high schools and the policies of Education Minister Isaaksen are very American; the idea that competition, measurement, and “the market” will make education better.
I have traveled throughout Norway this year, in addition I have traveled in England, Germany, and France. In all cases, the influence of America is strong. The French seem to put up the most resistance to being Americanized. As the world’s largest economy, post-war patron, and cultural dynamo, it is not surprising that America is a strong influence in Norway. Norway also has a very strong emigrant connection to America not found in other nations like Spain or France, for example.
One subtle way that American culture may be trouble for Norway is food choice. Americans eat too much “fast food” and drink too much soda and sugary drinks. As a result, America has epidemic levels of diabetes, heart disease, and cancers. I see Norwegian teens drinking a lot of American style sugar drinks at school, that is a bad sign for the future.
Is American culture good or bad for Norway? I don’t know, that is not for me to say. I do think that there is a well of Norwegian culture that does stand apart from American culture and is a source of strength to draw on to meet specific Norwegian needs. For example, the Norwegian commitment to a social democracy in which equality is a powerful force is unique and resists American demands for individualism. Also, Norwegian culture seems to favor long-term projects and solutions to the problems you face. Such as diverting profits from the discovery of oil into a sovereign wealth fund, building tunnels for transportation and then having drivers pay a toll for the tunnels, and taking climate change seriously.
China, India, Brazil, and Nigeria will be major world economic and cultural forces in the coming century. As such their cultural influences will grow. I predict that American culture will be changed more profoundly by these new powers than Norwegian culture. As a polyglot nation, those changes will be neither good nor bad. They will just be change, as America has always changed. Norway, with a more coherent national identity, will change as well but less so and perhaps with more discretion.
Med vennelig hilsen,
John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D.
We Can be Ready, According to the Law
To my American sensibilities Norwegian classrooms are uninspiring. The students are neither punctual nor serious enough for my standards. Casualness among the teachers is too common. I have seen a lot in my year of travels.
In the modern world, we are all global citizens. The products we consumed were produced halfway around the world, the benefits got realized in another locale, and the social and environmental consequences affected far away others who played no part in the production, consumption, or profit. Satellites see all. Our web of connectedness is as awesome as the array of all the stars visible and invisible on a dark night.
We have Twenty First Century problems, we need Twenty First Century solutions. To wait for the laws of nature to correct our human primate problems would be doom. To expect the laws of God to provide remedies invites greater problems of authority: Whose God? Who sez?
The answer for the problems of mankind is mankind. Specifically, an educated public. All the people steeped in literacy, numeracy, and humanity. All the people capable of answering questions as well as creating their own. All the people steeled to take their place in society, aware of the past and emotionally and intellectually armed to address the future.
Preparation, not training. Preparation for democratic life is difficult, resistant to quantification, and non-linear; it’s strategic. Training is specific, for a task and temporal; it’s tactical. To be educated is to be prepared. To be prepared one must be educated.
This week was the spring seminar for the Fulbright Grantees in Norway. In the auditorium of Helg Engs Hall at the University of Oslo, we gathered to share our work, take some questions, and revel in the presence of so many people who are amazing in their own rights tell about the amazing work they are doing. I told my wife that I got to speak with people who are going to save my life with medical advances, save our planet, and take us to new heights in appreciating the human experience with their art. I got to keep company in some rare air.
I presented my observations of the Norwegian Upper Secondary schools, “Vidergående skoler.” 10 minutes was scant time to wax about the 36 schools I visited, the 109 workshops and lessons I presented, or the 4,138 people to whom I have presented.
No, I had to keep my message succinct, and I think I did: The Kids are Alright! The concerns I mentioned at the start of this post are legion among American visitors. I heard them all before I arrived. Americans in Norway repeated them to me with the air of providing great insight. Some Norwegian parents and teachers have expressed all those concerns to me at some point. While my travels to vidergåendeskoler continue I have seen enough to say, “The kids are alright.”
Norwegian teens have asked deep questions, they expressed true enthusiasm for learning, so many students wanted to hear more, most lessons conclude with some student staying after to share their own insights. The kids are alright.
Norwegian youth also have the law on their side. Education is a Constitutional right. This right guarantees a remarkable similarity in the quality of education regardless of geography. The American trope of bad neighborhoods=bad schools does not apply.
But there is another special way in which Norwegian children and teens are able to make the most of the education they get, they are richly supported outside of school as well. The young people of Norway have health care, they have a stability in home lives, their parents have jobs that earn a living wage.
All of these conditions were decisions in a democracy manifested into Norwegian law. Norway is a small country to be sure but also a beacon from a high latitude to show the possible. By contrast there is no right to healthcare in America, the differences in educational experiences are wide, kids are poorer, families are more at risk from low-pay and unstable work. Worry must be an unwelcome companion for tens of millions of American kids.
The American kids are alright too, it’s just we have voted to make it harder to get to alright, harder to stay at alright. The US constitution doesn’t have one word about education or health or dignified work. If the American youth have to struggle so mightily to get an education, then can enough of them actually get prepared? We need every young person in America able to address our Twenty First Century problems, but will we? I’m not too worried about the children of the northern lights or their problems. In Norway an education and a chance at a dignified life are rights, according to the law.
There is a High Price to Living By the Roads
8:28 Resistance to motion sickness nearly exhausted, I feel like I should apologize ahead of time to the girl next to me in case I have to make a dash for the door. But trapped against this window in a moving bus my options are limited. Hold on.
The bus ride from Fredrikstad to Moss was only 60 Crowns, less than $8 dollars, pretty cheap. But like so much of our modern roads and highway culture, the costs are really high. No one really likes the bus, but I don’t see how we can afford our cars. The thought of society without them makes me as unsettled as this umteenth speedbump does another number on my belly.
I rode into Fredrikstad on the train. Trains, even slow trains, I think are probably the only truly sustainable way to move about on land. Railroads and the Industrial Revolution are two heads of the same coin. They were born and grew together, often with speed and change like a matastisizing cancer.
Trains were energy suppliers of people and goods into our town and city centers. Cinders and smoke be damned – the train needs to stop downtown! I romantize that trains helped stitch together provincial settlements and regional cities into a greater national tapestry and respected the distinctions of each town to their neighbors. Not too far from the central station, the city stopped and a clear transition to rural, maybe discivilized, lands occured. Then nothing, until the next town.
Paved roads, then highway culture upset the order. The car meant the more power you had the farther you could live from the center. Free of the stations, one could get on and off the road at will. And developments of a house here and a subdivision there blurred the lines between communties, blurring their distinctions, robbing some people of their identities, and freeing others from any responsibility to any one place. Everyone who was anyone could be anywhere and nowhere at the same time. Our car culture’s genesis coinsided neatly with Heisenberg’s Nobel winning uncertainty principle.
7:30 I decided to ask for help. Google Maps had me waiting at a stop across the street from the hotel, but it just didn’t feel right. The man at the desk didn’t know for certain either but he said when in doubt go to the main stop at the shopping center. I walked a couple of icy blocks for certainty.
7:39 I expected to wait about 10 minutes for the bus to come. To my horror, there it was, waiting. If I had waited at the stop near the hotel I would have frozen to death for nothing.
7:50 We roll on schedule. The bus is almost full. Norwegian full that is, which means there is one person to every pair of seats. The next sad sack aboard the bus is going to have to ruin someone’s solitude. Radial roulette.
7:53 Another stop, more frosty passengers. This is an intercity bus but with stops liberally sprinkled along the route. By car this would be about a 30 minute drive, I’m planning on an hour.
There’s a reason to pay more for a train, LOTS of stops on this route, will have to fight the motion sick, like riding a camel.
Traffic flowing into Fredrikstad, looks like any US city, we love our cars, we can’t afford them. We hate busses, but MAYBE we can afford them.
7:55 A large backhoe digging a hole. Artificial lights frames the scene. The earth is giving up its heat, the pile of spoils is steaming like a fresh dog dropping in the snow.
In the east there is a suggestion of the approaching dawn, mostly clear skies again.
The bus is 2/3 full.
7:58 Out of town, cultivated flats covered in snow, wrapping around the woody hills gives me a double-take of the Coulee region; maybe Viroqua or Decorah will be the next stop?
I had stowed my bags out of respect, people who set their bags and kit in the seat next to them on what they know is going to be a crowded bus is a universal yet boorish move. Buy a second ticket! A young woman took the seat next to me, she’s since moved, that’s okay.
I’m reminded a little of my trip to Farsund, lot’s of highway stops.
A gaggle of kids just got on, rosy checked and about 10-12 years, they were waiting for a while.
8:03 Trying to read the papers online while riding, but it makes my head spin and stomach queazy, need to take breaks to look out the window.
Sunrise comes slowly.
8:12 Råde. Now this route rides the break between the hills to the east and the lowlands west towards the sea.
Råde, your speed bumbs are numerous and really quite the experience on a long bus, once will be enough.
Homes lines this road, a half acre here an acre plot there, not in town but clearly not farming either. A problem with paved roads is ironically the open access and freedom, gives to “takings,” something elese we can’t afford. “Takings,” is what I call the conditions when an individual leverages the public in such a way as to drain, rather than add, to the society. I choose to believe it is mostly an innocent action but the consequences last and compound beyond the original actor or intent.
I think I just got a glimpse of an inlet from the sea off to my left.
The consequence of building homes is that one person’s temporary dream and ambition becomes a permement obligation for society, think institutional raced-based housing patterns in American cities, or demands to support an expensive road for a small number of people who live there.
8:22 6 board: mother and toddler, some kids and a woman.
8:27 Full pre-dawn. A low current of clouds parallel the road to the left, maybe an indicator of the fjord?
8:28 Resistance to motion sickness nearly exhausted, I feel like I should apologize ahead of time to the girl next to me in case I have to make a dash for the door. But trapped against this window in a moving bus my options are limited. Hold on.
8:36 Stamaad car dealship, there are snow covered cars on the lot. It snowed two day ago and they are still not cleared off. I’m not in Kansas anymore.
8:39 I asked the girl next to me if she’s getting off at the Malakoff school stop? I think she said yes but then she said a school name I didn’t recognize. I’m confused, which mixed a standard dose of anxiety, and stirred by motion sickness has got me on the total edge.
8:40 A stop, I think we must be close. Lots of teens pile off. I go for it. Of course I’m the last off the bus with all my luggage. No jacket on, I just drag everything off in a huff because I don’t want to delay the bus and draw anymore attention to myself that I already feel. Plus, the frigid temps will hopefully be a balm.
Where’d all the kids go? By the time I got all my gear together and dressed, they had disappeared across the street and into the neighborhoods. Here goes nothing. I cross the street and disappear too. There is a high price to living by the roads.
Roving in Review: 2015
The 2015 segment of my Roving Scholar experience is in the books. I have written plenty of words about my time teaching in Norway thus far, so here are some numbers.
In 2015, this Roving Scholar:
-presented at 1 academic conference
-traveled to 13 of the 19 regions of Norway
-visited 25 different Norwegian high schools to present workshops for students and teachers
-spent 51 days teaching at Norwegian high schools
-conducted 104 workshops
-reached 2732 people
Implicit in my title is travel, and boy did I ever. For a certifiable “homebody” in Iowa this has been a sea-change for me. According to my trusty spreadsheet my travels have totaled:
-5,542 kilometers in the air
-2,243 kilometers by local and regional bus
-2008 kilometers on trains
-976 kilometers by foot
-471 kilometers with city-rail
-and 5 hours on ferries
I do not have a car in Norway. All my transportation is done on Mass Transit. I have become quite fond of Mass Transit, in Norway it actually works.
My newspaper story on the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony, the companion to my blog posting of photos. Published in the “Insight” section of the Cedar Rapids paper, The Gazette, 20 December 2015
The Wheels on the Bus
9:38 “Now that’s a lovely sculpture for such a remote village,” I thought as my bus rounded yet another bend. “How many bends is that?” I lost track because I never bothered to start counting. Look there, another sculpture, big and grey…and a lot like that first one I saw. Pattern.
No, these were not isolated oddities of sculpture but part of a larger display. Now I wish I had taken a picture of the first one. Alas, an iPhone picture though the window of a moving bus is such a disappointing artifact. It’s much better to just watch and enjoy. Maybe on the return trip I can be better prepared.
Destination Farsund, about as far south in Norway as you can get. And it’s not too easy a trip for the carless. Monday afternoon was a 151 kilometer train ride from Drammen to the airport. A 280 kilometer flight to Kristiansand and then a 45 minute indirect route bus ride to the hotel. The route was my error, don’t diss the bus! Tuesday morning was #900 bus from Kristiansand to Farsund to teach at Lister Vigergaenda Skole – Eilert Sundt. Got all that?
7:56 I am out the door of the Thon Hotel Kristiansand. The air was crisp, the Christmas season lighting was ablaze, and a gaze of ice coated the walks and the streets. My destination was the transportation hub, just a couple of blocks. But new territory in the dark is a recipe for unplanned detours.
7:57 An old man is in a parking lot to my left. He has a cane and is testing the patch of ice he has found himself on. I wonder if he’s stuck. I walk and watch. He shuffles a little here and a little there. It’s not locomotion but he’s not static either. I’m getting to the point of losing sight and then he makes it to the handrail. I’m relieved. Do old men on the ice ever believe they were young?
7:58 The Color Line cruise ship is leaving port. As an inlander from America, the sight of large ocean-going vessels at all, let alone so close to shore is captivating. They light my imagination.
8:00 The depot. I didn’t walk the most direct route here but I made it and it wasn’t raining: victory. The depot is old and worn. It is not old and interesting, not historically old. Just old and run down. A city as beautiful as Kristiansand deserves better. An unpleasant companion in the depot is the sound of the floor sticking and then giving way to the soles of my shoes. I don’t want to sit and I can’t stand still. So I noisily pace.
The fellow inhabitants seem to be emotionally mediated by the depot, such a quiet and sullen group. The most disheveled among us intermittently sleeps on a bench. Others take turns going outside for a smoke.
I spend my time walking amongst the self-promotional posters for the bus service and anxiously awaiting the 900 bus. It leaves from station #1. Nothing yet, I walk back into the depot.
Ah, there it is. I see it approach the other side of depot so I gather my things and head out into the chill. Nothing. It doesn’t come. Pangs of panic begin; I go back into the depot.
The bus is parked. The driver is taking a break before his scheduled time to arrive.
8:24 The driver exits the restroom and heads to the bus. I hear it rumble to life, on my way to station #1.
8:25 My debit card is good. 186 crowns and I take my seat, port side and amidships.
8:30 Without fanfare or really even a warning, we are off.
8:32 First stop, “Bellevue.”
8:37 We are eight passengers and the driver. Highway E39 winds through the west of Kristiansand. The road lies between sharp cuts in the rock. It is really like most any divided, two-lane highway in the Midwest. The bus stops that line the road are the difference.
8:39 The guy behind me moved to the back. Good. I can’t understand why he’d sit RIGHT BEHIND me in the first place.
8:40 Entering Songdalen Kommune. In America when you enter a new town you get a sign with letters. In Norway you get the letters plus a large picture of community’s symbol. It is more inviting and memorable. You can look up Songdalen’s symbol on the internet, I’m not going to tell.
8:45 Three middle school-aged kids get off. The local bus also serves as the school bus, seems like a pretty efficient system.
8:50 Pockets of flat land parallel the highway here and there. Reclaimed from road building, now repurposed as hay and grain fields. The bounty lies wrapped in white.
8:57 A saltwater inlet, deep into the forest. Cottages and boathouses are speckled about the shores. It is the quiet season, the boats wait. People have lived here for a hundreds of years. Are they ready for the sea level to rise?
8:59 Mandal Kommune, another sign, another pretty picture. The speed limit is 70 km/h. The road is a serpentine ribbon. I bet in America you could drive faster. To date, there have been no, none, ZERO child fatalities in automobiles. I’m not sure what’s more amazing: zero in Norway, or that we accept that “x” children in America will die in cars.
9:04 A raft of ducks on the small lake to the left. They are dark blobs on the water. The grey skies deny me identification. A Goldeneye duck is alone in the water near the road. A brace of swans flies overhead.
9:06 Pop radio is ubiquitous. The driver is in his 60s, does he like it or does he use it for noise? Something is playing that sounds like a bad copy of Rhiana. Maybe its just actually her without the autotuning.
9:13 A city, Mandal. We pass a car dealership, it looks like any such place in the States. The rectangular building, glass walls, agents at desks under very bright lights trying to look busy.
9:15 We are actually stopped in Mandal, I guess this is evidence of the city’s status. We are parked outside the knitting shop, “nille.”
9:18 Rolling, farewell to the bundles of yarn arrayed on the walls. So many colors, so many possibilities. I don’t have a real Norwegian sweater, but I don’t want to buy one of the commercially-made ones. I need to find a little old lady.
It should be sunrise by now. It is light enough now that you can see pretty clearly. But there is a heavy overcast. It is dim and there are no shadows.
9:29 Tiny farms, homes and cottages here and there, the work of a surveyor must be steady employment.
9:34 We pass “Tredal” factory, a manufacturer of trailer for cars. Here they are called hangers.
9:36 Hokkah Minnesota? Was that the Root River? And all these statues, clearly there’s a theme. Eureka! I spy a name on a building, Vigeland. Ah, one-in-the-same no doubt. But that’s it and we are through the town, back on E39.
9:44 A hint of blue in the sky. The overcast is thinning in spots.
9:50 A slow climb up a steep hill. More signs warning of moose, still no sign of moose.
9:53 Picked up an older lady, now we are four and the driver. We all sit in the front half. Our location is just east of Rom, along a little branch of the Lygna River.
9:56 We added a father and a young daughter at the stop in Rom. She might be four; she wants to sit ALONE!
9:58 Check, a young boy with ginger hair.
10:03 “Yeah,” yells the boy when the bus stops, they exit. Lyngdal, a big stop and exchange. We are 10 now and I’m the oldest person on the bus. The driver is new too, clearly younger than me. We pass a sculpture, a grey concrete-like rectangle, open with silhouettes for sides. What is it? I first saw this sculpture in Stavanger, then other places, now here. Do you have an answer? The road crosses an expanse of flats, atypical. An ancient flood plain?
10:09 I now imagine I’m on the road from Centerville to Arcadia Wisconsin, Highway 93.
10:10 A tunnel, 940 meters.
10:12 Tunnel number three, this one is short. Signs for Farsund camping and Farsund resorts dot the road, not long now.
10:15 Farsund, I leave the bus. The buildings are mostly white, the clouds have reclaimed the sky. Now I drag my luggage to the school. I’ll try this street.
Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony
A small poem and a some photos from my time at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony at City Hall, Oslo, 12 December 2015. The longer write-up is done but on hold.
In the Name of Peace
Alfred’s birthday had a strong breeze
From Norskies én camera, no need to please
Dissidents, heros, mothers and more
2015, from Tunisia these four
To love thy neighbor is not too much to ask, please
Early, no crowd yet.
A little entrance music from the Army Staff Band
The Central Hall
Four chairs recently occupied by the Royal Family
US Diplomatic car, outside a coffee shop after the ceremony. NOBODY drives big black suburbans here expect you-know-who.
Help them “Howl” in high school
The Louvre, the Getty, Tate Modern, Musée d’Orsay, The Sofia…Coco-gey.
I have visited over 15 upper secondary schools in Norway thus far. They have all been similarly memorable for dissimilar reasons: Persbråten was my first, Langhaugen necessitated a flight, Byåsen welcomed me for a week, and the list goes on.
After three months of “Roving” I thought I had seen a representative sample of what Norway had to offer; i.e., no more big surprises. Wrong! Last week I wasn’t surprised, I was shocked with joy and amazement. Last week I taught at Kristiansand Katedralskole Gimle.
Kristiansand is a fascinating town in its own right, meriting its own posting but this post is about a giant sliver of that city, the upper secondary Cathedral School. It seems like the important and historic cities of Norway all have a Cathedral school. As a land where church and state were one, it should come as no surprise. A Cathedral school was the location to prepare elite teenagers for admittance to university and high positions in society.
While church and state have been more or less cleaved in Norway, and public schools operate under a mandate to educate all in a folkelighet paradigm, Cathedral schools still are elite institutions with long histories that make for unique stories. KKG is one such school.
The locals call Kristiansand Katedralskole Gimle, “KKG.” You would pronounce those three letters, “Coco-gey.” Across the road from KKG is a church surrounded by pollard-style trees. The simple form shrouds its history – it dates to the 12th Century. That is the neighborhood.
I arrived early and found my way to the Personal Room, the faculty and staff area. Norwegian Personal Rooms are large, light-filled, and usually bedecked with art. They are places where teachers actually want to gather and talk and practice their collegiality like it has always been done rather than in some prescribed manner. This Personal Room was no exception.
My cooperating teacher found me deep into paperwork scattered across an entire table, acting as if I owned the joint. She asked if I would like a tour of the school. My reaction was to pass because I have had many a tour, but mostly I had a heck of a mess going on. But I did the opposite, I said yes, I would love a tour. She said she was pleased that I said yes, I came to mirror that sentiment.
We ascended the stairs to the newest structure. It was a large and open exposition like area for students to gather and eat as well as perform, a stage with professional rigging and lighting was integrated into the design. Large original paintings overlooked with hall from positions on the walls. This structure united the two former buildings of the bifurcated campus. Both were mid-century modern in brick: efficient, utilitarian, and underwhelming. Little did I know that these books ought not to be judged by their covers.
Up the second level, our first stop was the reason for the school’s fame, Dr. Reidar Wennesland. Wennesland, a local boy and alumnus of the school, spent his adult life in San Francisco and was an important part of the bohemian scene in the Post-War Years. An eclectic man, he was a friend to the artists and vagabonds. And for those who needed medical care or a place to crash, Dr. Wennesland was a harbor.
Given that poverty was the lingua franca of bohemia, gifts of art were the currency. Wennesland’s guests and patients repaid their host in artworks of all manners and born of materials both humble and hasty. The heir for the collection – the world’s largest assemblage of West Coast Beat Art outside the US – was to be KKG and the nearby Agder University College; henceforth the Wennesland Collection.
Wennesland wanted the art to be displayed prominently and with great accessibility in the schools, to be a intimate point of interaction and inspiration to young people. The doctor believed that art should surround people, be part and parcel of daily life rather than reserved for stoic galleries and special occasions.
Frankly, that priceless works of art were hanging on the walls and at arms length of hundreds of teens was thrilling to me, what trust the curators and school put on the students! Some of the pieces did have modest levels of protection owing to their fragile states (penniless Beat artists worked with materials at hand, quality canvas and frames were unthinkable).
The school also had a rare book collection, visible and accessible with permission but behind locked glass. There were several bibles dating back to the 16th Century – some of the earliest years for the press. The curator had even pulled out a couple of especially remarkable works for a presentation, and I got to see up-close-and-personal a first edition of, “The Wild Duck,” by Henrik Ibsen!
KKG had a partner school for business training before the merger about a decade ago. In the lower level was a professionally curated collection of historical business and accounting machines. American made machines dominated the collection. Several of the machines bore tags noting them as gifts under the Marshal Plan. More inspiration and wonderment.
Teens get a bad rap. Too often the adult world thinks of them as hopeless and unfit for fine things and then constructs for them worlds that fit that adult paradigm, the results are predictable. At KKG I saw a vision of a more interesting and trustworthy world for teens to inhabit, to mature in. My home school’s motto is now, “Inspire, Unlock, Empower.” It is an admirable goal. At KKG they have no motto, I don’t think they need one.
Author’s note: The featured image is a picture of a book about the Wennesland Collection.
Forsgren, Frida. (2008). San Francisco Beat Art in Norway. Press Publishing. Oslo, Norway.